Expanding Your Quad Exercises

Kris Nign

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I played college football which ultimately led me to three meniscus surgeries in my right knee. This has played a tremendous role in my approach to training legs. Sometimes the inflammation in my knee creates additional tightness and decreased range of motion. I made huge gains in quad mass, strength, and overall health when I began to break my quad training exercise menu into bilateral and unilateral movements.  

If you haven’t read my previous article titled “Spinal Loading,” go back and read that before you read this one.  --This article will focus on expanding your exercise menu with more ways to train the quads.

In my previous article, I talked about ways the “sacred-cow” of quad training, the barbell squat, adds compression, torque, and shear on the spine. In this article, I’m going to talk about more movements which target the quads and more specifically, keep you healthy and compliment your barbell squat strength.

First, we’ll go over some personal favorites with bilateral quad training. The baseline of bilateral quad training is learning to be comfortable in a bodyweight squat. If you currently are not comfortable in one, identify the areas of discomfort and begin to attack these areas in your warm-up. Common areas of weakness include ankle mobility, knee stability, and hip mobility.

Moving on to progressions from the bilateral bodyweight squat, we have the 1-DB Goblet squat. With one dumbbell tucked under your chin, perform the same squat pattern as the bodyweight squat. This creates a front squat effect, with tremendous activation in the core and quads, while significantly decreasing the load placed on the spine. From here, we can elevate the toes or the heels thus creating a new stimulus to the same pattern.

The final bilateral movement I will describe is the Kettlebell (or dumbbell) Sumo Deadlift. This movement couldn’t be simpler. Get in your squat stance, drop your butt to reach the KB, squeeze your lats and low traps and pick it up. This is a great movement to decrease the load placed on the spine while improving your squat and deadlift form, and specifically targeting the quads.    

Incorporating unilateral training is a crucial aspect to quad training. The baseline movement to single-leg training is the split-squat. When training my clients, this is our “sacred-cow” of quad training. My job is to safely increase the strength of each client. Rather than placing a barbell on the client’s back, I begin with the split-squat. Focusing on core activation and protecting knee health by learning to squat onto the heels rather than the toes.

Once the client is comfortable in the split-squat and their form is satisfactory, we begin to load the split-squat with the 1-DB Split-Squat. Just as the 1-DB Goblet squat, we tuck the DB under the chin and focus on core stabilization and squatting through the heels. We use this method to load the split-squat until the load becomes too heavy and begins to create discomfort in the back foot (usually in the toe), or the load begins to pull the spine forward.

Once this problem arrives, we then move to suitcase position split squats. Suitcase position means a dumbbell in each hand with the arms extended down beside the hips. Again, we are focused on core stabilization and squatting through the heels.

Progressing from the split-squat, we move to the rear-foot elevated split-squat. Again, we start with the bodyweight version and focus on mastering the form. Once the client learns to activate the core, and the added stabilizers activated with the back foot elevated, we add the 1-DB tucked under the chin. Once the 1-DB load begins to create a forward lean, we then move onto the suitcase position rear-foot elevated split-squat. For advanced clients, we might have a band wrapped around each dumbbell with the client’s floor-grounded foot standing on the center of the band. This increases the recruitment of stabilizers in quads, butt, and core.

Expanding your quad training exercise menu is important for knee health, overall strength, and helping to keeping things fresh. Continue to expand your exercise menu, and change things up to spark new motivation and stay hungry in the gym. There are more ways to train quads than the “sacred-cow” of quad training. Not to mention the improvement your barbell squat will receive by incorporating these movements i’ve described.    

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